When Louis Met Bobby

According to their own telling, “[a]s the country’s lead counterintelligence agency, the FBI is responsible for detecting and lawfully countering actions of foreign intelligence services and organizations that employ human and technical means to gather information about the U.S. that adversely affects our national interests.” So the reader might wonder how the FBI detected and countered a spy for a foreign intelligence service in their own ranks, and what that says about current FBI operations. 

According to the FBI, Robert Phillip Hanssen was “the most damaging spy in Bureau history,” arrested on February 18, 2001, and charged with espionage on behalf of Russia and the former Soviet Union. The FBI man, who swore an oath to enforce the law and protect the nation as an FBI agent “provided highly classified national security information to the Russians in exchange for more than $1.4 million in cash, bank funds, and diamonds.”  

Hanssen held “key counterintelligence positions” and beginning in 1985, he used “encrypted communications, ‘dead drops,’ and other clandestine methods to provide information to the KGB and its successor agency, the SVR. The information he delivered compromised numerous human sources, counterintelligence techniques, investigations, dozens of classified U.S. government documents, and technical operations of extraordinary importance and value.”

According to the FBI, Hanssen went undetected for years, “because of his experience and training as a counterintelligence agent.” He was detailed to the Office of Foreign Missions at the Department of State, where the agent enjoyed “full access to the FBI’s Automated Case Support (ACS) system and the State Department’s computer systems.” 

The bureau lured Hanssen back to FBI headquarters with a special assignment and monitored his activity. In February, 2001, they caught him at a dead drop in Virginia. On July 6, 2001, Hanssen pleaded guilty to 15 counts of espionage and in 2002 he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. 

Hanssen had committed “the most traitorous actions imaginable against a country governed by the Rule of Law,” said FBI director Louis Freeh in a February 20, 2001 statement. Hanssen violated his FBI oath “in the most egregious and reprehensible manner imaginable.” His crimes are “an affront not only to his fellow FBI employees but to the American people” and Hanssen’s own family. “I take solace and satisfaction, however,” Freeh said “that the FBI succeeded in this investigation.” That claim could stand a bit more detail. 

Hanssen succeeded in eluding the FBI for some 15 years, almost as long as it took the FBI to catch the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, a real domestic terrorist. The span may be even longer since in some accounts Hanssen had been caught spying for the Soviets in 1976, only three years after he joined the FBI. His wife Bonnie found him covering up documents in the basement of their home. Hanssen had recently been assigned to a counterintelligence unit on Soviet activity. 

His “unusual activities had aroused suspicion from time to time,” Freeh claimed, but the FBI failed to catch their worst spy. Maybe bureau bosses weren’t looking hard enough. 

Freeh resisted the CIA practice of “fluttering” agents every five years with polygraph tests. Former CIA director James Woolsey wondered why Hanssen wasn’t caught when he regularly ran his own name and particulars through bureau computers. When finally arrested, Hanssen said “what took you so long?” It is possible that someone higher up in the FBI or Department of Justice was protecting him. 

Freeh did not identify the FBI officials who assigned Hanssen to the State Department, a prime target for foreign agents going back to the days of Stalinist spy Alger Hiss. That explains the big-time money the Soviet KGB and Russian SVR were willing to pay Hanssen. The FBI and State Department would not be eager to reveal the full damage assessment. 

Seven months after Freeh’s statement, on September 11, 2001, the nation had more evidence of FBI failure. The nation’s leading counterintelligence agency failed to stop the worst attack on America since 1941’s Pearl Harbor attack, with 3,000 deaths, massive destruction, and ongoing misery.

In 2008, the nation elected Democrat Barack Obama, whose strongest influence was Communist Party member Frank Marshall Davis, disguised as the poet “Frank” in the 1995 Dreams of My Father. The African-American Davis spent most of his life defending an all-white Soviet dictatorship. Frank earned a place on the FBI’s security index, but in the run-up to 2008 the FBI was rather quiet about the candidate who aimed to fundamentally transform the United States of America. 

One of President Obama’s first actions was to scrap missile defense for U.S. allies Poland and the Czech Republic. Missile defense was also the subject in 2012, when the president told Russian president Dimitry Medvedev, “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.” 

“Yeah, I understand,” Medvedev responded, “I understand your message about space. Space for you.” 

“After my election I have more flexibility,” Obama told the Russian president.    

“I understand,” Medvedev said. “I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” a reference to Vladimir Putin, a veteran of the KGB. Putin lamented the demise of the Soviet Union, the dream country of Frank Marshall Davis. So the composite character president, as David Garrow described him in Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, did his best to give the Russians what they wanted on missile defense. 

On Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s watch, Russia paid millions to a U.S. lobbying firm to influence Clinton to ensure the deal’s success. In 2013, the Rosatom company backed by the Russian state, acquired a Canadian company with assets in the United States. That enabled Russia to own about 20 percent of U.S. uranium production capacity. 

Both Clinton and the president essentially looked the other way at Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Obama headed the most Russia-friendly administration in U.S. history, but in 2016 a new narrative emerged. According to Hillary Clinton, Vladimir Putin wanted her rival, Donald Trump, to win the election. 

The outgoing president deployed the upper reaches of the FBI and Justice Department against candidate and then President Trump. One of the key players was Peter Strzok, assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, supposedly arrayed against foreign spies in the United States. Strzok and other FBI agents deployed covert operations such as Midyear Exam, designed to keep Clinton in the running, and Crossfire Hurricane, against Trump. 

The infamous Steele dossier was a total fabrication, financed by the Clinton campaign. A major source was Russian national Igor Danchenko, for years on the FBI payroll. Danchenko was also the source for the charges that Trump engaged in a conspiracy with the Kremlin

This was the basis for the charge that Trump was a traitor and election cheater, endlessly repeated by congressional Democrats and establishment media,. None of it was true, but nobody in the FBI, from James Comey, Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok on down, ever faced criminal charges. 

A Hunter Biden laptop found its way to the FBI, but in short order 51 veterans of the intelligence community said the laptop smacked of “Russian disinformation.” The former intel bosses included CIA director John Brennan, who voted for Communist Party candidate Gus Hall in 1976 and never should have been hired in the first place. 

The FBI is part of the intelligence community, now composing a full 18 members. For more than 15 years, the nation’s leading counterintelligence agency, failed to detect an agent who spied for Russia.   

As Louis Freeh said in 2001, Robert Hanssen “swore an oath to enforce the law and protect the nation.” He violated his FBI oath “in the most egregious and reprehensible manner imaginable” and his crimes were “an affront not only to his fellow FBI employees but to the American people.” In 2022, the American people could say much the same about the FBI.

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About Lloyd Billingsley

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and other books including Bill of Writes and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation. His journalism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Spectator (London) and many other publications. Billingsley serves as a policy fellow with the Independent Institute.

Photo: FBI Director Louis Freeh addresses reporters 20 February, 2001 on the arrest of career FBI agent Robert Philip Hanssen. MANNY CENETA/AFP via Getty Images

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